What is considered to be an exotic pet depends on context, but it is largely agreed upon that anything other than a domestic animal can be considered exotic. Different companies, people, state governments, and associations may all define what an exotic pet is slightly differently than one another. To some, a pet goat or a ferret is exotic but to others, only things like tigers and venomous snakes are exotic. What is ordinary for some people is not always ordinary for another. Within the veterinary community, exotic pets are typically considered anything that isn't a domestic dog, cat, or farm animal.
Legality of Exotic Pets
Since each state has its own laws and regulations on exotic pet ownership, each state also defines what an exotic pet is differently. This means that some states may deem it illegal to own certain types of exotic pets while others may allow you to care for any kind of animal as a pet. Most states make it illegal to own exotic pets that they consider to be invasive or dangerous to the environment or people, but some have other reasons for outlawing certain kinds of pets. If you are unsure whether or not a specific type of animal is legal to own where you live, be sure to check your state laws before acquiring the pet.
What Animals are Classified as Exotic?
In general, animals that are not domesticated are usually classified as being exotic. This includes birds, fish, reptiles, invertebrates, and many pocket pets that are commonly purchased from pet stores. Dogs, cats, chickens, cows, horses, goats, pigs, and other animals that are domesticated are not usually classified as exotic pets. However, rabbits may or may not be considered exotic. Exotic pets may also include some wild animals, both native and foreign species, that people choose to own and care for. Some of the most common exotic pets are:
- Rabbits (may or may not be classified as exotic since they are a domesticated species)
- Guinea pigs
- Sugar gliders
- Invertebrates (including tarantulas and snails)
- Non-domesticated felines (including tigers and servals)
- Non-domesticated canines (including wolves and foxes)
Are Exotic Pets Dangerous?
Some people are under the false impression that all exotic pets are dangerous wild animals but this is not the case. Many common exotic pets, like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, are also referred to as exotic companion animals because they can make wonderful pets. Plenty of children have cared for exotic pets like hamsters and goldfish while their parents may have even been unaware of this classification of animal. Despite this, some exotic pets are indeed dangerous wild animals and can be very harmful to people, the environment, or both. Giant African land snails are a good example of a type of exotic pet that is dangerous to both people (due to the types of diseases they can spread) and the environment and are therefore illegal to own in the United States. Many state laws are designed to protect people and the environment from being harmed by these types of exotic animals. Domestic dogs and cats have the potential to bite or scratch people just like some exotic animals. However, since they are not wild animals, they lack the wild instincts of some exotic animals that can result in injuries to humans.
Do Vets Treat Exotic Pets?
Yes, some veterinarians do elect to treat exotic pets, but not all of them do. Whether or not a veterinarian treats exotic pets will depend on their own comfort level and training. Because of this, it is important for anyone interested in owning an animal that may be classified as exotic to confirm what veterinarians near them are willing to treat their desired type of exotic pet.
Veterinary specialties exist in zoo, exotic companion mammal, avian, and reptile medicine. This means that veterinarians and veterinary technicians that earn their specializations in one or more of these topics have proven their advanced knowledge and training in these specific species. These professionals are often exotic pet owners' best options when they are looking for a veterinarian, but there are unfortunately not many veterinary professionals who are specialized in these topics.